A life between two worlds

Published 10:19 pm Saturday, June 7, 2014

By Dennis Edwards

We called him “Bro Bro,” a nickname big sister Cynthia gave to James Edward Thompson Jr. to make sure everyone knew he was her brother. It stuck and in many ways Bro Bro became a big brother to all of us, whether we knew it or not.

At the tender age of 20, he answered the call to public service. He became an undercover police officer loaned to the Virginia State Police, played a major role in the Suffolk Police Department’s patrol and canine divisions and then rose to the rank of lieutenant in the criminal investigations unit.

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He wasn’t the city’s first African-American officer. But he was a pioneer in many ways, perhaps most impressively as a person of integrity and compassion.

The early 70’s were tough times in Suffolk. He stepped onto the stage of police work at the height of racial tensions over integration and boycotts. He lived precariously between two worlds, and too often neither was very kind to him. But he persevered while struggling to figure out how to cope with hurts and threats often delivered from people he loved and respected.

Bro Bro, like many in uniform, was called to stand in the gap between clashing worlds. Officers often find themselves torn. They are there to uphold the law, but they have feelings, too.

We should never forget their humanity. Any injustice to one of us does not give anyone the right to take it out on those who respond. By the same token, an officer’s authority and effectiveness is enhanced by fairness shown to everyone involved.

Bro Bro did his best to walk that tightrope. He did it with friends and colleagues, and his loss inspired tears not easily wiped away. They went through life and death together, had each other’s backs. Many were mentored by the man they now mourn.

These men and women filled First Baptist Mahan Street last Monday to say goodbye to a friend who left us too soon and most unexpectedly. Each face registered a deep and genuine sense of loss. These were friends who stood with him through tough cases, through the dangers, the losses and the gains that are part of a police officer’s life.

The interesting thing about the way Bro Bro stood in that gap is how he tried to do it with a humble and forgiving spirit. He seldom talked about the varied and pivotal rolls he played.

He lovingly taught his daughter Alexis everything he knew, from playing the guitar, to shooting to swimming. His sons were the recipients of his abiding pride in their accomplishments. Loretta and Bro Bro were an inseparable husband-and-wife team.

After a long career investigating the worst humanity can do to humanity, he still believed in the Lord of life and living. His faith was a foundation inherited from his father and his mother. With memory’s eye and ear I still see and hear his Dad singing “How Great Thou Art” and “Peace Be Still” in First Baptist’s Chancel Choir.

Bro Bro shared his father’s calm spirit and his mother’s gentle heart. Perhaps it was their love and his sister’s devotion that helped him live a most impressive life between two very different worlds.

Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter and anchor, He is a 1974 graduate of Suffolk High School. Email him at dennisredwards@verizon.net.